After a long campaign that has brought the extraordinary spectacle of the brothers David and Ed Miliband cast as ruthless rivals, today may be the last day in which they emphasise their (real) political differences.
The deadline for voting is at 17.00 hours, and both camps are claiming their man is set to win. With tensions running high; Ed Miliband has just sent a campaign email appealing for extra votes and saying, in a clear attack on the rival camp:
This has been a campaign based not on the backing of large donors or of the New Labour establishment, but on the support of thousands of new and long-standing Labour Party members.
Very soon, though, such messages will be a thing of the past. After the votes are counted over the coming days, the results will be revealed on Saturday afternoon in Manchester. After the first real contest since Michael Foot was elected Labour leader in 1980, the new leader will be charged with ushering in a spirit of fraternity towards his brother as well as across his party. He will have to give an acceptance speech, interviews, a conference speech and then turn outwards to the electorate and against the coalition. Parliament returns after the conference season the following week, and the new leader will face David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions.
There is no doubt that divisions between the Miliband brothers will be a key line of attack from the coalition. But if peace breaks out in the Labour party after this weekend — and that is a big if — there is one response the new leader will be able to give: the Tories and the Lib Dems have fought bitter leadership contests before, but none of the candidates has been able to say they loved their main rival. Labour MPs and activists will be hoping that after being so dramatically tested in this surreal contest, brotherly love will prevail for the sake of the party and the country.
PS: Here is Alastair Campbell, in today’s Yorkshire Evening Post, showing how it is done when it comes to offering support for a candidate without treading all over the contest:
I am really hoping that David Miliband wins the leadership, I hope that there’s a new team that does the strategy stuff. I would just love to see a younger generation come into it. Never say never but I feel at the moment that I have got a very different sort of life.